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9 Ways to Help Save Money & Stress Less on Holiday Shopping

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By Megan Nye

The holiday season is here! But while the kids are dreaming of dancing sugarplums, you may find yourself searching for gifts and making the world's longest holiday to-do list.

Had enough of your annual, end-of-year expenses and hair-pulling? If you want to maximize your holiday cheer this year, try these nine tips for spending and stressing less, so you can enjoy the season instead.

1. Take the guilt out of shopping with a holiday budget

The point of holiday gifts isn't to perfectly express every aspect of your relationship, says Amy M. Gardner, a 42-year-old certified executive coach in Chicago, IL.

Often, people think of an item a person might like and then try to find it at the lowest price, she adds. Instead, Gardner recommends first choosing a spending limit for each person, then only looking at gifts within budget that match the recipient's personality and interests.

Need an easy holiday budget planner and tracker? Check out apps like Christmas Gift List or Santa's Bag.

2. Strike up a deal with family and friends

You're not alone in wanting to enjoy the holidays instead stressing over them. Talk with your loved ones about working together to simplify the season for everyone. Try one of the following within your circle:

  • Specify a spending cap on all gifts.
  • Conduct a Secret Santa or a White Elephant exchange.
  • Limit gifts to just kids this year.
  • Opt for a single gift per family instead of individual gifts. Some great options are cookies, board games, movie tickets, and a family membership to a zoo or museum.
  • Forget the gift exchange entirely and opt for a potluck holiday party, cookie swap, or cocktail event.

3. Skip pricey, time-consuming wrapping entirely with a different type of gift

We always steer clients away from giving physical gifts and instead recommended they give experiences, says Ben Soreff, a 43-year-old professional organizer in Norwalk, CT. He personally enjoys swapping baby-sitting services rather than gifts with his friends.

And when it comes to the kids? Think about and watch how your children play, Soreff recommends. Get them one or two toys they'll love, and put everything else towards an activity like swimming lessons or a show.

4. Avoid the last-minute gift grab

Procrastinating on holiday shopping can mean unexpected expenses and more stress.

Instead of waiting until the final hour, try an easy-to-use method for capturing holiday inspiration throughout the year like Amazon Wish Lists and registries, Evernote, or Wunderlist to keep your ideas organized and accessible on the go.

Gardner never throws away last year's ideas: My husband and I have a gift list that we update each year. It includes notes on what we've given each person over the last several years, as well as ideas we didn't use.

And don't think that you have to cram all of your shopping into the pre-dawn hours of Black Friday to get the best deals. Big savings typically span the entire week of Thanksgiving and may even get better on Cyber Monday.

And if you do wait until the last couple of weeks before Christmas, take full advantage of Free Shipping Day, which is honored by many retailers and falls on December 15th this year.

5. Have some never-fail, go-to gifts

Instead of starting your gift list from scratch every year, try sticking to a theme or a present you give again and again:

  • Give everyone on your list a book he or she might enjoy.
  • Create a tradition of giving grandparents framed school photos every year.
  • Stock up on scented candles for your coworkers.
  • Give nieces and nephews a day of fun . . . and their parents a day off.

And keep a box of grab-and-go gifts tucked in a closet so you're never caught off guard. I always have a gift closet with a few kids' gifts, little notebooks, etc., says Amanda Ponzar, a 40-year-old Chief Marketing Officer and mom of two in Alexandria, VA.

6. Work some gift card magic

Odds are, you'll give - or receive - at least one gift card this holiday season. With a few easy tricks, you can get more gift card for less money.

Got credit card rewards points sitting in limbo? Redeem points for discounted gift cards for your favorite retailers, or check out an online gift card broker like Gift Card Granny or Raise, where you can sell your unwanted cards for cash or buy cards below face value. Give the cards as gifts or use them yourself to purchase presents for less.

Want to do some good with your money while shopping? See if your kid's school or sports team offers a scrip program, where a portion of the sale will be contributed to your child's organization.

7. Enlist your team to bring your holiday plan to life

Divide and conquer, recommends Gardner. If you're great at shopping and your partner is great at wrapping, divide it up. Otherwise, divide up the shopping list after setting a budget together.

Getting everyone involved is a great way to have some holiday fun together. Get your kids to suggest gift ideas for family and crank up the holiday music while you deck the halls.

8. Get techy to boost your holiday savings

Heading off to your favorite big box store? Download the store's app before you go to score select deals and mobile-only coupons. In addition to a rewards credit card, shop with a cash back app like eBates or iBotta.

Use a price checker to make sure you're getting the very best deal. Sites like CamelCamelCamel and SlickDeals give you access to detailed price histories and allow you to set up personalized price alerts for items.

9. Look for deals in unexpected places

Many rewards credit cards offer holiday-oriented categories or special discounts for members. Before you shop, see if your card has deals like retailer promotions, access to presale tickets, online coupon codes, or travel deals.

In addition, get creative with where you shop. Look for wrapping paper, greeting cards, party gear, or craft supplies at your local dollar store. And if you're a coupon lover, clip savings at supermarkets, drugstores, or arts supply stores.

Ready to tackle the holidays? Try out our tips for a joyful season that doesn't blow the budget. And enjoy this amazing time of year!

Writer Bio

Megan Nye is a personal finance freelance writer with a background in mathematics and insurance. Her writing has been published by Lending Tree, Personal Capital, The Penny Hoarder, The Huffington Post, and many other businesses and publications.

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